Whatever momentum the Vols may have gained in a surprise win over the LSU Tigers on Wednesday vanished this afternoon in Thompson-Boling Arena as a Senior Day crowd of 16,042 watched the Vols fall 60-49 to South Carolina. The loss assures Tennessee of the #10 seed in the SEC Tournament and the Thursday night matchup against Vanderbilt in Nashville. Here are five observations from today’s game.
Home woes: Today’s slow start and ultimate defeat dropped the Vols to 9-7 at home this season and 2-7 in conference play. Tennessee – somehow – finished the season with a winning record (5-4) on the road in SEC play. The Vols were outscored 466-382 at home in their seven conference losses for an average differential of -12 points per game at home, which goes against just about every “home court advantage” theory ever put together in the history of college basketball. The good news for Tennessee is that the rest of their games this season are almost certain to be played away from Knoxville.
Josh Richardson: It wasn’t his best performance, but Josh Richardson’s career at Tennessee will not be defined by today’s game. The senior tied for a team-high with 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting (including 4-of-10 from three-point range), while also adding six rebounds and six assists. Richardson now sits at 33rd on UT’s all-time scoring list after today’s performance. A teary-eyed exit from today’s game was to be expected, but Richardson wasn’t ready to give up on the season just yet.
“I’m grateful to have opportunity to play here,” Richardson said after the game. “I’m grateful too the fans for being patient with us all year. Sticking it out through all the tough losses and the big wins. We still have a some games to play so it’s not completely over.”
Where’s the help?: While Robert Hubbs was able to scratch out 14 points of his own to match Richardson’s production, few other Vols were able to find any real rhythm on offense. Kevin Punter scored nine points on 3-of-9 shooting, but the rest of Tennessee’s roster would combine for just 12 points on 3-of-13 shooting from the floor. Armani Moore – who scored 19 points in Wednesday’s win over LSU – only mustered two points against USC and was essentially a non-factor in his 30 minutes of play. If the Vols are to have any chance of playing more than one game in next week’s SEC Tournament, they will have to get more balance and production from the roster.
Paint points: Like most teams that Tennessee has faced this season, South Carolina was considerably bigger, taller and stronger than the Vols in the post. The Gamecocks were able to use that size to their advantage today to the tune of a 28-14 advantage in points in the paint. After dominating the talented LSU posts on Wednesday and out-scoring the Tigers 36-20 in the paint, Tennessee’s performance today came as a bit of a surprise. The Gamecocks continuously got open looks at point-blank range against Tennessee’s zone, which struggled to rotate in time to cover the backside post, and practically negated anyone that Donnie Tyndall decided to play at the 4 or the 5. Post play proved to be the difference in this game, and Carolina was able to win the battle down low.
The difference: Tennessee has struggled in the first half of home games all season and today’s game was no exception. After jumping out to an early 10-5 lead over the Gamecocks on 4-of-4 shooting, the song remained the same for the Vols as USC would outscore them 31-11 over the final 15:04 of the first half on their way to a 36-21 halftime lead. After starting the first half 4-of-4, the Vols would close by hitting just three of their final sixteen shot attempts. Tennessee had spurts in the second half, but their halftime deficit was simply too much to overcome.
Final stats: pic.twitter.com/FE4xBzU9Rq
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) March 7, 2015